A 23-year-old woman who left college to travel to the frontlines in Iraq and Syria has shared her experiences from the conflict, opening up about about abuse and cruelty that she saw at the hands of ISIS.
Joanna Palani, who left her studies of politics and philosophy in Copenhagen behind at the age of 22, told Broadly that she was inspired to "fight for human rights for all people."
"On the 14th of November 2014 I went to Iraq, and then I went to Rojova in Syria," Palani said. "I was with the YPG for six months and then I was with the Peshmerga for six months, so I was fighting for a year."
The YPG refers to the People's Protection Units, the main armed service in Syria. The Peshmerga are a Kurdish army trained by Western forces to fight terror in the region.
Palani was born into a family of Iranian Kurds, and she was born in a U.N. refugee camp in Iraq. Her family moved to Copenhagen when she was a child, and she told Broadly she lived a "normal, comfortable life" there.
After joining the armed forces against ISIS, Palani recalled horrific scenes of violence caused by the terrorist organization, such as very young girls who were raped.
"I met this girl in the hospital we had to bring them to," Palani recounted. "She was a Syrian Christian and she died holding my hand because she was 11-year-old and she was pregnant with twins. Her little face was so swollen. It just wasn't right. I remember the doctor crying and yelling at me and my first soldier."
Palani reportedly had to convince the doctor that she and her battalion were not responsible for the girl's rape.
After returning to Copenhagen for a short break to see her family, Palani was told that her passport was no longer valid, and if she attempted to return to Iraq or Syria, she faced the risk of jail time The government had reportedly implemented new laws intended to prevent those who support ISIS from joining the group.
Joanna remains in Copenhagen and has returned to her studies, though she said she can't stop thinking about the battalion that she left.